Seatrec, Northrop Grumman Receive DARPA Award for Developing Deep Sea Robots to Study Climate Change and Support Blue Economy

Seatrec, Northrop Grumman Receive DARPA Award for Developing Deep Sea Robots That Can Study Climate Change and Support Blue Economy

Small Business Innovation Research Phase II is next step toward commercialization of fast-diving, autonomous robots that are powered by Aluminum fuel


Seatrec, a renewable energy company that harvests energy from temperature differences in the environment, announced today that it has been awarded a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). As part of the grant, Seatrec has assembled a multi-disciplinary team of scientists and engineers and subcontracted Northrop Grumman to support the development of a float that can dive to 1000 meters at a speed of 1 meter per second, a factor of 10 faster than the current state-of-the-art.

Dr. Yi Chao, Founder and CEO of Seatrec, is the Principal Investigator on the grant and built the company’s technology he started at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Today’s buoyancy engines are too small to support such a fast profiling speed. If we increase the size of the buoyancy engine and add a propeller, the required 1 m/s speed can be achieved, however, a significantly larger battery would be necessary in order to maintain long endurance. We’re excited to partner with Professor Doug Hart from MIT to explore the use of aluminum fuel, when mixed with water, to create the extra buoyancy required to achieve a 10x increase of the profiling speed,” said Chao.

“Aluminum, long used as a solid rocket propellant, is among the most energy-dense materials known but has found little use in other applications due to difficulties in harnessing its power. My group at MIT has developed a method to safely create a liquid slurry that can be reacted with water on contact releasing hydrogen gas and heat. In this project, the hydrogen gas will be used to generate positive buoyancy to achieve an order of magnitude increase in profiling speed,” said Hart.

“Ocean data needs a sea change to help navigate the warming world,” stated in a recent article in Nature, “The ocean covers about 70 percent of Earth’s surface, regulates the climate and it’s home to countless species of fish, a major source of protein for more than one billion people. It is now under threat from climate change, overfishing and pollution.” This technological advancement will certainly accelerate the evolution of ocean observation and monitoring.

“There are simply no other energy harvesting solutions available like Seatrec. The synergy of these innovative technologies and our experience in developing military-grade solutions will result in a very promising offering to better observe our oceans,” said Brian Theobald, Chief Engineer for Northrop Grumman Undersea Systems.

About Seatrec
Seatrec designs and manufactures energy harvesting systems that generate electricity from naturally occurring temperature differences in ocean waters. This renewable energy can be used to power deep water oceanographic research equipment such as floats, gliders, and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), resulting in the most scalable, cost-effective deep ocean data collection possible. Incorporated in 2016 by CEO, Dr. Yi Chao, Seatrec’s technology originated at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, to provide clean power for remote off-grid locations. The company is headquartered in Monrovia, CA. Visit us at and @seatrecinc.

Media contact
Marta Bulaich
Head of Marketing
+1 415-816-1665

These Underwater Drones Use Water Temperature Differences To Recharge

Recharging Ocean Drones with Renewable Energy

Check out the interview with our CEO and Founder, Dr. Yi Chao, with Jeremy Hsu in IEEE Spectrum. In the interview, Yi talks about how Seatrec uses thermal energy harvesting to recharge ocean floats and gliders with renewable energy generated by ocean temperature differences. A summary is below. Click here for the full article. 

Thermal Energy Harvesting

Today, most floats are treated as disposable devices due to power and financial challenges. Power challenges arise because the lithium-ion battery energy is limited. Once the battery dies, the float and accompanying potentially toxic battery drop to the bottom of the ocean. Financial limitations are in play because oceanographers lack the funding to deploy ships to retrieve these derelict floats. Yi's goal is to leverage Seatrec's thermal energy harvesting systems to eliminate toxic battery disposal. Additionally, with our technology, we can improve the durability of ocean drones and improve the data collection and frequency of profiling.

Underwater Charging Station for UUVs

Seatrec is collaborating with defense giant Northrop Grumman to develop an underwater recharging station for ocean robots. Northrop has created a self-insulating electrical connector capable of operating while the powered electrical contacts are submerged. Seatrec and Northrop won a $10,000 prize under the Powering the Blue Economy: Ocean Observing Prize administered by the U.S. Department of Energy and NOAA to develop this technology.

Yi is most excited about collecting as much oceanographic data as possible and exploring other blue economy ventures such as aquaculture (underwater farms) and other subsurface applications.


Northrop Grumman And Seatrec Recognized For Self-Sustaining UUV Charging Station

Northrop Grumman and Seatrec, Inc. were recently winners of an Explorer Prize, which concluded the Discovery competition phase of the Powering the Blue Economy™ Ocean Observing Prize, sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Read more on Northrop Grumman's news site.

Cleantech Companies Ride the Sustainable Investing Wave in LA

LA's cleantech startup scene is making waves, and we're in stellar company with Lauren Gropper from Repurpose and funding from prescient SoCal investors like LACI and Pasadena Angels. Thanks, James B. Cutchin, for featuring our sustainability community and the greener (and bluer) world we're aiming to build.

Seatrec Honored as Winner of the Powering the Blue Economy™ Ocean Observing Prize

Seatrec, a renewable energy company that harvests energy from temperature differences in the environment, today announced it is the winner of DISCOVER competition of The Powering the Blue Economy™: Ocean Observing Prize, sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). As part of the American-Made Challenges, this prize was awarded to Seatrec for its revolutionary work in creating a green energy solution for persistent ocean observation to power profiling floats and underwater gliders. Competitors were asked to submit novel concepts and ideas to integrate ocean observing sensors and platforms with marine energy systems.



“At a time of unprecedented challenge for the world and for oceanographic research, we are especially honored to receive this award. All of the competitors demonstrated incredible commitment to the bluetech economy,” said Dr. Yi Chao, founder and CEO of Seatrec. “Our team is honored to be recognized by the DOE and NOAA for our work to date. We are dedicated to continuing to develop transformative solutions for continuous ocean observation to ensure the health of our oceans and make critical impacts on the planet.”

Seatrec’s pioneering technology harvests renewable energy from temperature differences in the ocean to power underwater floats and gliders. In February, Seatrec tested a Sea-Bird Scientific Navis float, powered by two Seatrec SL1 energy harvesting modules, and successfully profiled to a depth of 1000 meters. The SL1 harvests energy from temperature differentials in the ocean and converts it to stored electrical energy for future use.  This clean, renewable energy can potentially power profiling floats indefinitely and dramatically reduce costs for essential data collection for oceanographic research. Continuous profiling will allow exponentially more data to be captured, dramatically improving climate modeling in addition to driving better understanding of the world’s oceans. A similar green energy solution for underwater gliders is actively being developed.

Competitors were evaluated on the impact of their innovation, end-user market potential, and technical feasibility. On March 31, DOE announced 11 winners for the DISCOVER Competition. As a winner, Seatrec intends to continue to build on its innovation in preparation for the next phase DEVELOP Competition.

Read the full press release here.

SEATREC Raises $970,000

Seatrec today announced it has raised $970,000 in Seed round financing led by Pasadena Angels with participation from Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) Impact Fund, Tech Coast Angels, and other strategic individuals. John Yoon from Pasadena Angels will join the Board of Directors as an observer. With this funding, Seatrec plans to expand its engineering and operating teams to increase sales, accelerate product development, and support government-sponsored activities. Read more.

Sign up for our newsletter

Get the latest Seatrec news and updates.

Sign up for our newsletter

Get the latest Seatrec news and updates.

Contact Details

Seatrec HQ
1340 Specialty Dr., Suite I
Vista, CA 92081

Seatrec Satellite Office
Gulf & Ship Island Building
2605 13th Street
Gulfport, MS 39501

+1 626 386 5988

Privacy Preference Center